Saturday, February 28, 2009

SignAge from the Stone Age

Here's the sign I did up for The Rooms Gift Shop. I wasn't sure what to expect when I dropped it off - frankly, The Rooms has been a bit of a disappointment when it comes to moving my product. But I'm happy to report that I'm very impressed with the current Elfshot display and I appreciate being asked for bigger and better signage. I think there's reason to be optimistic. At the moment they have a very good selection of Elfshot's local chert and fibre optic jewelry.

If there are any retailers carrying Elfshot product reading this who would like one of these 8 1/2" x 11" signs on cardstock, please e-mail me and I'll send you one.

Its very easy to get money for marketing and promotion of craft in Newfoundland and Labrador. The product photos on the above sign were done by Erick Walsh while he was building a digital portfolio for me in 2006 or 2007. I got funding through the Craft Industry Development Program (CIDP) to pay for 50% of the costs associated with that project. At the same time I had some posters printed and did up a bunch of brochures. The posters and banners were a good investment and I probably have a few more years of use left in them. I think I printed something like 500 or 1000 colour brochures. Whatever is was, it was too many. With craft you need to constantly be creating new products and evolving your product line every year. If you don't, not only will your business not grow it will start to shrink, as customers drift away. That means that your print materials become dated quickly. That's the mistake that I made -- it was so easy to get CIDP money that I spent more than I needed to and bought marketing materials in volumes that were unnecessary. Now I'm stuck with them. I know now that I need promotional materials in the dozens, not the hundreds. I'm not General Motors and nobodys going to bail me out if I mismanage Elfshot into bankruptcy.

Friday, February 27, 2009

High Arctic Adventure

Last September, I was the resource archaeologist on a two week long High Arctic Cruise for a company called Adventure Canada. It was a fantastic trip and I'm sure that I'll post more on it in the future, but for now I want to gather together some of the web content that other people have created from the trip.

  • Yesterday, one of the passengers, Janet Alilovic, sent around a youtube video of the ship heading south across the Arctic Circle. We had a Luau on the ship's bow to celebrate -- I'm wearing the obnoxious pink shirt and Spiderman hat.
  • Another passenger, Linda Matchan, is a reporter with the Boston Globe and wrote this travel piece about the trip.
  • Author Ken McGoogan was responsible for keeping the official Log of the expedition. Here's a .pdf of his summary: High Arctic Adventure 2008.

Photo Credit: Tim Rast
Photo Caption: Walrus in Croker Bay, Devon Island, Nunavut, September 2008

Filling Wholesale Orders

Today I can get back to working on my wholesale order from the Craft Council shop. Its Friday and this is only my second workshop day this week, which isn't a great record. In the winter with the time it takes to warm up the shed, and the fact that I usually come out of the workshop dusty and dirty, I need to be able to dedicate a full day to make the effort worthwhile.

Receiving the Order: Most of my wholesale orders come in through e-mail, snail-mail, or face-to-face with the customer. As soon as I get the order I enter it into a word document that I have called "Ongoing Orders". Basically its a big table with customer names along the top row and product descriptions running down the side. In the cells I put the number of each product that the customer is ordering. The advantage of having all my current orders on a single table is that I can quickly see the total numbers of each type of product that I need. Every time I switch jobs or types of product it takes time, so if I can make all of the glass earrings, for example, that I'll need to fill 3 orders at one time its more efficient for me. As I fill orders I delete the rows and columns that I don't need anymore.

Inventory: When I start working on an order I'll print out my Ongoing Orders table and use it to go through my inventory. My inventory is strategically strewn around the house, although the densest concentration is hidden in boxes in the unsightly part of the basement. I rarely have everything for a wholesale order on hand, but I almost always have a few pieces. I assemble the product I have in stock in a box and make notes on my ongoing orders list of the remaining product to make.

Workshop: At this point I need to start in the workshop. Even though I'm the only Elfshot employee, I try to work in big batches, in stages, like an assembly line. I always make more than I need to allow for breakage, but also to maintain and build my inventory, which helps speed up the inventory stage of future orders. The farther away the delivery deadline the more extras I'll make. The longer I can work without changing tools or materials, the more I can get done and working in big batches helps that.

Assembly: For assembly, I move into the presentable part of the basement with the TV. Although some pundits argue that the very act of assembly makes the presentable part of the basement unpresentable. (see also, Observer Effect) Assembly involves the wirework on necklaces and earrings, epoxying on pins and cufflinks, as well as printing and applying hangtags and cards. I do everything I can to reduce the amount of time I spend with each piece and I'm adamant about only moving pieces one way up the assembly line. I never undo work that I've done. For example, if I have a pair of green glass earrings and I need two green glass necklaces, I'll never disassemble the earrings and turn them into the necklaces. It might seem like the quicker solution at the moment, but its not a good way to run a business.

Shipping: This is the part of the process that I always underbudget for timewise. Printing invoices and packing the product always takes longer than I anticipate. I almost always lose most of a day to shipping. If I can schedule shipping for multiple orders all on one day it is much more efficient, but often my delivery dates are staggered. I keep track of delivery dates and amounts owed on a 4 month wall calendar over my computer. Payment is net 30 days, so the calendar is useful in keeping track of which customers to check in on. The one exception to the net 30 days rule is for new customers, who I contact when the order is ready and arrange payment (usually VISA) before I ship the product.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast
Photo Captions:
Top, My Ongoing Orders table and some recycled glass earrings in progress.
Bottom, In stock product waiting for the rest of the order to be completed.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cobble, Cobble

Today is one of those days cobbled together from bits and pieces.

This morning I was at a Craft Council executive meeting at Devon House.

Currently, I'm the Past chair of the executive, Janet Davis is the Chair, Brenda Stratton is the vice-chair, Mary Hood is the Secretary, Christine LeGrow is the Past Treasurer and Kim Marshall is the Treasurer. Its a good bunch and meetings this time of year can't help but revolve around budgets and finances. The organization's budget is staggeringly large and the vast majority of the income is generated by the Craft Council itself. Comparatively, our outside funding is a small, although still vitally important, component.

I walked home from the meeting, which means that I don't have to get on the treadmill today, which frees up some time to deal with surprise e-mails. I need to make a new sign to go with my product in The Rooms giftshop, and I should send some product photos to the folks on the hill for their online buyers guide. Don't think I'll get to that today, though.

This afternoon I'm working on my taxes again. I'm hoping for a refund and Lori is hoping to get the dining room table back so her mom has a place to have a cup of tea when she arrives sometime this afternoon.

I also have a couple of hours worth of computer work on a mapping contract that I'm desperately trying to get off my plate. There seems to be some problem with the CDs that I've been mailing my work on. I'm going to try burning the files to DVDs and I'll probably go buy a memory stick as well. I think the solution to this problem is going to have to be complete overkill. I'm going to cram as many file formats and media options as I can into an Expresspost envelope and boot it out the door.

If there is one aspect of archaeology that makes me miss doing more fieldwork its definitely the mapping. I suppose that reproducing sites through maps keeps me entertained the same way that reproducing artifacts through flintknapping does.

Caption: Evolution of a map from grubby field drawing to clean CorelDRAW image.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Nose to the Ground

I want to grab a link to this article from The Pilot. Its about some work that I did last spring. The Beothuk Interpretation Centre in Boyd's Cove started a new sandbox dig for kids and I supplied the artifact reproductions. Lori and I went out to help with the set up and to train the staff in basic archaeology field techniques. This is the sort of venue where reproductions are ideal. Using the real materials creates a much more authentic experience when compared to resin or plastic casts. The stone and bone is more durable and the waste flakes and even broken or incomplete pieces all add to the reality.

Real archaeology sites are not filled with perfect museum quality display pieces -- what we usually find are the broken or discarded debris that is left behind. Hmm... and they're often muddy.

On the way back home we took a detour through Brookfield. It was the weekend of the Craft Council's AGM and to celebrate the inaugaration of Janet II as the new Chair of the Executive we held the meetings in her homeland. One of the weekend's events was a linocut workshop in her Norton's Cove Studio. I printed a design that I'd cut during a New Year's cabin retreat. I honestly hadn't intended the print to mean anything, but now a big dirty animal snuffling at a ceramic jug in the mud seems like almost too obvious of a subject for a print by an archaeologist.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast
Photo Captions:
Top, Pig and a Jug, Linocut 2008 Tim Rast
Bottom, Sharon and Lori inspecting a print at Norton's Cove Studio

Experimental Archaeology

I have a pizza in the oven so I have 24 minutes to work on this post. I'm working in the shed today. I suppose I should say workshop instead of shed - it sounds more professional.

I built the workshop in 2004 behind my house. In the winter I go out an hour before I start work to turn the heater on and then I work out there for an hour at a time. On a good day, I'll make 3 or 4 trips to the shed.

Currently, I'm working on a jewelry order for the Craft Council Shop at Devon House in St. John's. Its been a good year for wholesale orders, so far. Usually I'm working on reproductions for museums or universities from January-March, but this year I already have 3 wholesale jewelry orders in.

This time last year I was working with Patty Wells, a Ph.D. Candidate at Memorial University of Newfoundland on some organic Palaeoeskimo reproductions. I was using stone tools to gouge, carve, cut, and grind bone and antler. By the end of the project, I made a bird bone needle, an antler harpoon head, a caribou bone barbed point and a whalebone whatsit. Patty is working on figuring out the function of the whalebone thing - sometimes they are identified as harpoon foreshafts, but we don't find harpoon heads in Newfoundland that fit on them.

Patty's project was a fun change from normal. Usually, my reproduction work is focused on producing an end product that is as close as possible to the originals. How I get there doesn't really matter. But in this case the process was the important part. I made a set of Dorset Paleoeskimo stone tools and tried to determine which tools would have been used at all the stages of manufacture. Patty was also interested in the waste materials and the forms the organic tool took between being an animal part and a finished artifact.

Using the stone tools was novel for me and I learned a lot about the functional aspects of making and hafting them. I've been flintknapping and working with stone tools since the mid-1990s and its a constant learning process. Plus, I usually just have the radio on for company in the workshop, so it was a treat having Patty perform Flight of the Conchords episodes from memory while I scratched away at soggy antler.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast (top), Patty Wells (Middle, Bottom)
Photo Captions:
Top, Workshop in winter with Thule harpoon reproductions
Middle, Gouging whalebone in the workshop
Bottom, Cutting the notch in the bottom of an antler harpoon using a stone knife

The Oldest Post in the Blog.

I'm just waiting for the Bailey's to blend with the coffee and then I'll really get this thing going.

Who: Tim Rast, Flintknapper and Archaeologist

What: A blog for Tim's company, Elfshot, which specializes in archaeologically inspired jewellry and museum quality artifact reproductions.

Where: From my home office in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada.

When: I began this blog on Feb 25, 2009 because of two things that happened on Feb 24th.

Why: Yesterday morning, Feb 24th, I was going through my 2008 receipts getting ready to do my taxes. From a Do-what-you-love-and-you'll-never-have-to-work-a-day-in-your-life perspective, 2008 was a pretty blinding year. I wished I was the sort of person who kept an up to date portfolio, or at least a diary. Yesterday afternoon I went to a meeting with an interweb company to discuss the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador's website. The web expert we talked to mentioned blogs as a simple way to manage your online content. The idea being that you don't have to be responsible for generating and storing all of your business's internet presence in one website. Which is a problem I've had with Updating the html isn't as much fun as it used to be and its turned me off from keeping up with my online portfolio and collecting links to Elfshot's presence around the internet.

So part of the role of this blog will be to keep a record of the work I'm doing now and in the future, but I'd also like to collect and document some of the highlights from Elfshot in 2008, before my memory completely fades.

How: For now I'll use this site on blogger, although I may want to bring the content to if I can't make the links between the blog and the website seemless.

Photo Credit: Janet Alilovic
Photo Caption: Flintknapping workshop on board the Akademik Ioffe, September 2008. Somewhere north of Baffin Island.
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